A pioneering programme

St John's School at Sidmouth has been authorised as an IB World School to teach the Primary Years Pr

St John's School at Sidmouth has been authorised as an IB World School to teach the Primary Years Programme - Credit: Archant

St John’s School is a day and boarding school in Sidmouth, perched on a hill above the town, with marvellous views across its playing fields towards the sea. It is a school that, educationally, has also always looked outwards, keen to blend the old and the new.

At the same time as preparing to celebrate its centenary in 2014, the school is also now embracing one of the world’s most innovative and fastest growing programmes of primary education: the International Baccalaureate’s Primary Year Programme (PYP).

Although very much an English school, serving its local Devon community, the school welcomes boarders from all over the world and is staunchly international in spirit. The school began by educating refugee children from Belgium following that country’s invasion by Germany at the start of the First World War, and has fostered international-mindedness ever since.

The IB Primary Years Programme is currently taught in 1,061 schools in 99 countries. Its numerous advantages explain its growing take-up across the world.

First, it is offered by an organisation (the IB) which has been a global leader in international education since the 1960s and is renowned for the highest educational standards. There are now over one million students worldwide following IB programmes.

Second, a school can only offer the PYP once it has met extremely rigorous standards. Heads and teachers are specially trained and authorisation is only granted following a demanding in-depth study of the school by a visiting team. St John’s School was delighted to have gained its authorisation with flying colours at the end of last term.

Third, there is growing evidence that PYP students outperform those following other programmes. Two recent research studies, in large samples of PYP and non-PYP schools in all parts of the world, show PYP schools out-performing non-PYP schools in most year groups in mathematics, reading and writing. Comparative research also shows that that in PYP schools students tend to be keener to learn, show greater awareness of global and cultural issues, and have more developed critical thinking skills.

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St John’s was attracted to the PYP because it insists that children take control of their own learning. Children need to know why they are learning and to think about how they best learn as individuals, so that they can continually improve. Building children’s motivation and self-awareness is the key to success.

Drawing closely on the long experience of PYP schools all over the world, St John’s is proud to be one of only 14 schools in the UK and the first and only school in the South-West to offer this programme. In taking this step it is being faithful to its origins and showing its pupils what it means to be truly internationally–minded. n

Dr Nicholas Tate is chairman of International Education Systems, which is responsible for a network of schools including St John’s School, Sidmouth, as well as two others in England, three in South Africa, one in Hungary and one in the USA.